At Home with Denny Griffith

President of Columbus College of Art & Design

By
From the February 2014 edition

He’s more than an accomplished artist and college president. Denny Griffith is the family cook, has mad skills with hedge clippers and rides a motorcycle with a cadre of former CCAD Trustees.

His wife calls him Edward Scissorhands. No wonder. One look at Denny Griffith’s meticulously manicured, English-style garden, and the reason becomes quite apparent.

Perfectly pruned yew hedges outline two large beds within the flagstone courtyard behind Griffith’s Eastmoor home. Precisely rounded boxwoods flank either side of a wrought iron bench. Neat rows of white begonias line the walkway, while a pair of skillfully sculpted umbrella-shaped lilacs stand sentry by the garden gate.

“I love to trim all the bushes and make sure things are nicely clipped,” says Griffith, president of the Columbus College of Art & Design. “I just love being out there … It’s good therapy.”

The courtyard’s focal point is a three-tiered fountain surrounded by seven small frog sculptures that spit water into a circular pool at its base.

“It creates happy noise of water splashing and all that bit,” Griffith says, noting he and wife Beth purchased the whimsical, bronze frogs on a vacation in Mexico. “The backyard is the room, if you will, that we spend the most time in from early spring to late fall. When I’m not doing work, that’s the place I like to be.”

The green space beyond the walled courtyard includes hydrangeas, hostas, redbuds, a large variety of evergreens and several magnolias. It’s also home to Griffith’s art studio.

“There’s an extra garage on the back part of the property, and that was perfect for me to convert into my painting studio,” he says. “It’s a place suitable for me to make a big mess and just walk out the door, lock it and stroll away.”

Griffith works in a medium called encaustic, which involves melting beeswax and blending it with oil paints.

“The beeswax drips and splashes, so it’s nice to have a place where I can make a mess like that and not compromise the integrity of the house,” he says.

Griffith describes his painting style as “real abstract—nothing but ellipses and textured surfaces and different colors. I’m classically trained, but that’s the language of form I’ve developed over time and that’s what I do.”

It’s also how he lives—embracing art in its various, sometimes abstract but always intriguing, forms.

An Eye for Architecture

Griffith’s two-story stone home was designed by architect Robert “Roy” Reeves, best known for creating the quaint, French-inspired look of Sessions Village in Bexley. It’s a work of art in and of itself.

“It’s a beautiful piece of architecture,” Griffith says. “It’s got that sort of English Cotswold style with stone and, in our case, the roof is Ludowici tile, which is a flat, terra-cotta style. When we saw the house, we fell in love with it from an architectural perspective.”

Built in 1936, the home also reflects the quality finishes common to that time.

“The floor planks are different widths,” he says. “They’re lovely golden-colored wooden floors. We have old, original Pella windows. The ceilings are not more than about 9 feet high. It’s warm. It’s welcoming. It’s got a great feel to it.”

Griffith acknowledges that from the street, the 3,966-square-foot home looks larger than it actually is because of a unique layout that wraps around the backyard garden area.

“It’s only one room deep and kind of L-shaped,” he explains. “The house is really designed so all the rooms on the back of the house look out onto, or down upon, this beautiful courtyard. Architecturally, it’s really distinct.”

The same could be said for the decor of the Griffiths’ home, which is an eclectic assortment of furnishings and art.

The foyer, for example, includes an antique sideboard with an Aminah Robinson piece (a folk art sculpture of three snakes standing on their tails) and two notable photographs—one by Dick Arentz and the other by CCAD faculty member Danielle Julian-Norton.

“It’s two indeterminate female figures with bright red wigs, in nurses outfits, locked in an embrace,” Griffith says. “You can tell when you come in that this is where art people live.”

The Griffiths’ dining room is home to a pair of sculptures by Ohio stone carver Ernest “Popeye” Reed, as well as photographs by both national and local artists, including Aaron Siskind, Edward Weston, Tony Mendoza and Will Shively.

“We also have some really early William Hawkins paintings,” Griffith says. “We have tons of stuff.”

Some of Griffith’s own artwork is displayed in the home’s living room.

And even Griffith’s dog—which he describes as “mostly Shih Tzu, part squirrel”—has a colorful name: Red.

“There are a few things that are ‘important,’ but they are all beloved,” he says of his ever-growing art collection. “And I think they’re all important, too—especially the work from my buddies.”

Down Time

When Griffith isn’t creating his artwork, trimming back bushes or attending to the business of running an international art college, he can often be found relaxing in a comfortable chair at home amid a couple thousand books.

“We have a wonderful little library that’s all hand-pegged—there are no nails in it,” he says. “It’s an intimate little space with shelves all the way around and a fireplace. That’s a great place to be. If you can’t be out on the back patio on a Sunday morning reading, to be in that library with the fire going is pretty nice.”

It’s in the kitchen, however, where Griffith relaxes and gets creative daily.

“I’m the cook in the family,” he says. “I love to do back-of-the-refrigerator cooking, where you get home and kind of look around and see what’s there and see what you can throw together. I can do endless variations on pasta. I can do casseroles. I can grill. Sometimes, if we’re in a hurry, I’ll just do a salad with some seared tuna or a piece of salmon on it.”

Another relatively newer form of unwinding for Griffith involves a Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle.

“It must’ve been a midlife crisis, but I bought a great big motorcycle a half-dozen years ago,” Griffith says. “It was actually some trustees here at the college who were responsible for getting me hooked on it.”

His wife doesn’t often join him on the Triumph, however.

“I ride the iron pony, and she rides the horse,” he says. But that doesn’t mean the two don’t take adventures together.

“We love to travel,” says Griffith, who recently announced he will retire from his CCAD post in June. “For recreation, we’ve been to Europe and South America. For [work], I’ve been to a lot of the same places and China. My bucket list would just be as many more places we can go. I’d like to go to Iceland. I’d love to see Australia.”

Still, for Griffith, there’s no place like home.

“Even after 11 years, every time I get home and pull into the driveway, I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live here,” Griffith says. “We’re smitten with that house. It’s a magical place to live.”

Nancy Byron is a freelance writer living in the Dublin area.